"He That Hath An Ear, Let Him Hear."
by Henry Elson
Notes of an address.
DOUBTLESS, we have all remarked that the style in which the Book of the Revelation—the book of the unveiling—is written, is different to that of every other New Testament writing. The language is symbolic, and the truth expressed thus in symbol was communicated to John in a series of visions, the first of which comes before us in chapter 1 verses 12-16. The verses preceding these inform us as to where John was, and under what circumstances he received the Revelation. 9th verse: "I, John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos." The island of Patmos is situated in the Aegean Sea—an island which travellers describe as looking like one huge rock, of particularly stern, barren, desolate character, and on that account used, under the Roman Emperors, as a place of banishment for criminals, or offenders. How came John, then, to be in such a place? Was he a criminal? No! Was he an offender? Yes; he was! In what did his offence consist? This same 9th verse tells us: "I was in the isle that is called Patmos for the Word of God, and the testimony of Jesus." He was not an offender against the authorities that be, as a murderer, a thief, or a busybody in other men's matters, or in any moral sense; but he was suffering in Patmos on account of the Name, and accordingly the Spirit of glory and that of God rested upon him. It is not uninteresting nor uninstructive to note how God over-ruled the power and hatred of Satan and the enmity of the carnal mind in men unto the furtherance both of God's Own truth and the blessing of His servant. Doubtless, men thought they had silenced a mighty voice for God when they put John away in the solitude of Patmos. It looked as though Satan had secured a brilliant victory, when through human instrumentality, he had got John into circumstances of banishment; but as a matter of fact, it was a defeat. God made the wrath of man to praise Him in this case, as in countless other cases, restraining the remainder, and making even Satan to serve His Own counsel, for instead of silencing the voice of John through putting him in Patmos, it was only the means of causing his voice to ring louder, and yet louder, and reach an infinitely wider circle than could or would have been reached in the course of his ordinary ministry where he was when he was seized and sent away into banishment. Where has not the voice of John gone in the book of the Unveiling? It has gone to the ends of the earth.
It was necessary that John should be in circumstances like those he realized in Patmos, in order for him to receive the Revelation. Of course, someone may say: ‘But could not the Lord have given to John the Revelation in any city where he might have been living and pursuing his ministry in the ordinary way?’ To my mind, that is a very unwise line of reasoning. Could not the Lord have done so! What cannot the Lord do? Is anything too hard for Him? and who would think of limiting Him? But a little acquaintance with, and a little close observation of the ways of God, as given to us in the Scriptures, teach us this: that God does not separate the end from the means necessary thereunto. Having a given end in view, He chooses the means by which such end shall be accomplished. Have not we all noticed that when God has had something to make known—and on certain occasions this comes out in a very striking way—He sees that those who are the subjects of such Divine communication are in the right circumstances to receive and to transmit the same? You think of the circumstances under which the great commission was received. I refer to Matthew 28, which tells us that the disciples went away unto a mountain in Galilee as Jesus had appointed them; and there He appeared to them, and there He spoke to them, and there He charged them, there He gave them the indeed great commission, away in the loneliness of yonder mountain in Galilee. Think of another striking instance of this principle, viz.: when the Law was given in the past dispensation. When God would communicate with Moses, and through Moses to His people, He called him up into the Mount. Think of the stillness that reigned there; nothing to distract the ear of Moses—God had his ear completely there; nothing to divert the eye of Moses—God had his eye there. And into that undistracted ear, God pours His pure and perfect truth; and before that undivided eye, God spreads out the glorious vision of His dwelling place, the Tabernacle of His presence, the tent of testimony. God took great care that His servant Moses was in the right circumstances to receive such indeed important communication. Is it needful to multiply instances of God's way in this particular? I think not. Other instances will come to your mind—impressive instances too. And to my mind, there is a lesson for us as we thus consider the way of God; for while it goes without saying, that in a certain sense, there is no comparison between ourselves and Moses, or between ourselves and inspired apostles, yet the principle of God's dealing with them in these matters of communicating His mind and will by inspiration is, I believe, the principle upon which God deals with us in unfolding through the Holy Spirit, Himself, His mind, His will, in the written Word. Well for us to recognize this, and if we are not called up into the loneliness of a mountain height, if we are not seized by the hands of wicked men and thrust into banishment—into a Patmos—let us fully enter into this, that we need as truly, if not as fully, as they did, circumstances of quiet, of retirement, of undistraction, in waiting upon God over His Word, in order to be receivers from Him.
Now I want to press this afresh upon my own heart, and I want to press it, my beloved brethren and sisters, upon yours. What a day we are living in! Oh, the rush of life, not a minute to spare. Yesterday, how much time did I have alone with God over His Word? How much to-day? To the youngest believer, I want affectionately to address this, as well as to the more mature: Are we Christians who recognize the necessity of getting alone with God over His Word? and not only that, but do we know the experience of it? Now, do we? Let us just quietly think that over. I do not wonder that we are not receivers in larger measure than we are, seeing that we do not put ourselves in the right position, nor seek the fitting circumstances to make us receivers. Will the formal fifteen minutes in the morning before I leave my bedroom,—though some, it is feared, do not get that—or the half-hour before I retire to rest, with my body wearied by the work of the day, and before I have read half through the chapter, my head begins to nod—will that suffice?
Our responsibilities are solemn, and we will not be fit to discharge them if we do not know what it is before God, and under His eye to thus seek the reality of being alone with Him, to know what it is undistractedly to wait upon Him in the reading, searching, and meditating over and upon His Word. I speak this as one not unappreciative of the difficulty, nay, the intense difficulty, which is experienced in a day like the present in getting this time with God over His Word. Indeed, only those who really try, who really struggle for such time, know how difficult it is to get it. If you have not tried, you do not know how difficult it is; those who have tried, do know. And I am not thinking for one moment that all Christians can possibly devote the same amount of time to the reading of the Word; there are differences of circumstances, but, no doubt, God, if our circumstances are within the circle of His will, arranges those circumstances so as to permit us to have sufficient time with Himself, and over His Word, that will enable us to do the very thing that He designs. Some need very much more time than others, but I am satisfied that each of us, without exception, needs time; this applies to the weakest and most babe-like child of God. Sisters will not think there is the slightest reflection upon them in viewing them as the weaker vessels; Scripture views them in that way. But even the sister with family cares and duties cannot afford to go without this quiet time with God. We shall never rise to that which God has called us unto; we shall never rise to the present need and opportunity, if we are not Christians, each one in his measure and her measure, who thus knows what it is to get alone with God over His Word. There are a thousand influences around us that will take the edge off us if we do not get sharpened up in our time alone with God.
I believe that this matter, simple as it may be in itself, is, nevertheless, more important than words can set forth. How much depends upon it God only knows; and I would suggest, just as much for myself as for others, that from henceforth, we set our hearts unto this, asking from God that we may see His hand stretched out, so helping us, so arranging in our circumstances, that the desire of our heart to get with Him over His Word may be gratified; for let us remember that while responsibility is ours, power belongs to God; let us cry unto Him that we may see His gracious hand stretched out to arrange for us the time each one of us needs from day to day over His Word. If we thus set our hearts unto God, we shall find on His part, blessed response. It is with God to impress us upon this point, as He alone can. May God Himself stir us up in this direction; may He touch our consciences, and hearts, and raise our spirits by our reading and meditating upon this matter. We will be richer and stronger, more God-like, more Christ-like, if we know the experience to which I have referred; but, absolutely and positively, we will not without it. There is no such thing as getting on and doing without it; we will languish and decline without a doubt.
I will only remark about verse 10, that if we need proper and suitable circumstances to receive from God, according to what we have been considering as the outcome of verse 9, we need also the Spirit.
In verses 12-16, we get the first of the series of visions which the Book of the Revelation brings before us: The One in the midst of the Seven Lampstands. What we get in this vision is a Divine picture of assembly position, assembly fellowship according to God, expressed in the province. This should have a mighty voice to us in seeking to conform to the will and Word of the Lord in the country and the day in which we live. This vision gives us a picture of that which God set up at the beginning, and which we should aim to reproduce. The fellowship of assemblies, the collective testimony of God's people, is clearly to be seen in this portion of Scripture; it seems to me so plainly taught here that we cannot get past it, if one is only willing to receive it.
Well then, having the position unfolded to his eyes, words come to John's ears (chaps. 2 and 3) concerning the state of the seven assemblies, the collective position of which appears in the vision of chapter 1. And at once we are struck with this fact, that, while the position is one, as in the first chapter, the date is various in chapters 2 and 3. The seven assemblies in Asia were absolutely in one position, and that of God, a Divine position; but the state in which they were varied. There are scarcely two alike; indeed, not two precisely alike, though there are points of resemblance. For those who have known through Divine grace, something of the one position of chapter 1, there is a great deal in the respective conditions of the assemblies in chapters 2 and 3, to instruct, admonish, warn, reprove, and abundantly encourage. I believe we may look at the individual state of each of these several assemblies, and we will find in our contemplation abundant matter for instruction and help in avoiding dangers that others have fallen into, and in enabling us to do what is right and well-pleasing to the Lord:—abundant encouragement to avoid the wrong and do the right.
In the first assembly—Ephesus—we see the principle of inward decline with outward apparent prosperity. Verse 2 of chapter 2: ''I know thy works, and thy toil and patience (endurance), and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them, which call themselves apostles (sent ones), and they are not, and didst find them false; and thou hast patience and didst bear for My Name's sake, and hast not grown weary." Much that is right and commendable here. "But I have this against thee" (here let me call attention to the word somewhat in italics in the A.V.; there is nothing in the original answering to that word), "that thou didst leave thy first love. Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works." Connect the first love with the first works. Remember, repent, do, "or else I come to thee, and will move thy lampstand out of its place" (no word quickly there) "except thou repent."
Now please turn to Proverbs 14. 14: "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways." Connect the principle here with the assembly in Ephesus. What was Ephesus? Ephesus was collectively, as an assembly of God, a backslider in heart—"Thou didst leave thy first love"—and having left the first love, Ephesus had ceased to do the first works. What is the Word of the Lord to Ephesus? “If you do not repent and do the first works, I will remove your lampstand out of its place; you have ceased to do the first works because you have left your first love: if you do not repent and do the first works, you will have no works to do, for I will remove your lampstand." "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways." A solemn word to each and all of us. May I suggest that we think of this in application to ourselves? Let us take it to ourselves individually. We must not imagine that the words backsliding and backslider refer to something or someone who openly goes wrong. A backslider does not at once go into some very open, definite phase of worldliness. There is such a thing as being "a backslider in heart" and this may be so whilst outwardly there is every indication that it is otherwise. Think of the force of this word, "the backslider in heart.” The heart is the mainspring. "Keep thine heart above all that thou keepest," for the backslider in heart will presently develop into a backslider in ways; and he will be filled with them. As we are in our hearts, so are we in reality. I am what I am in my heart, as the living God sees me and knows me. Is it right with thine heart, brother? is it right with thine heart, sister? is it right with thine heart? Oh! that God may fill us with fear, and reverence, and vigilance as to our inward state, lest perchance in any one of us, that Scripture may be fulfilled: "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways." What a calamity it would be for us to become backsliders in heart, and for God to set us on one side; and as getting cold in heart, we cease doing the first works, He should put from us the opportunity of doing works at all! May we be like the beloved apostle as he comes before us in chapter 1 verse 9, in the pathway of suffering on account of faithful service. No backslider in heart was he. And what was the result? Unto him that hath, shall be given. God made John a mighty servant in the Isle of Patmos. He knew what faithfulness to the Word of God was, and what the testimony of Jesus was. God made him a greater testimony-bearer than ever, the most distinguished prophet of this or any other dispensation, for in what prophetic book of holy writings do we get the depth and height that we get in the book of the Unveiling? I would that we may in our measure be like John, and that God in infinite mercy may save us from becoming backsliders in heart, lest we be filled with our own ways. May God in His goodness and mercy save us from that!
We can only just notice in the most superficial way the features of the other assemblies named. In Smyrna, we get a different condition altogether to that in Ephesus. There is nothing which the Lord reproves, everything He commends. He warns of coming trial, tells them to fear not, encourages them to be faithful, "Be thou faithful unto death," and points them to the victor's crown of life. Happy for the assembly which like Smyrna gets such words from the Lord. "Thou shalt have tribulation ten days." "Be thou faithful." Assemblies to-day have tribulation; and the blessing is sure to him that overcometh. To him that overcometh, the victor's crown shall be given. Do not let us then be overwhelmed at the thought of suffering, and trial, and persecution, and onslaught; though the onslaught in this day would not be the literal persecution which Smyrna was subjected to in its day. But in whatever shape or form, Satan's onslaught may come, let our aim be to be faithful, to stand fast.
Passing on to the next assembly, Pergamos, we get a different state of things again; different to Ephesus, different to Smyrna. One of the main features of Pergamos is that which comes out in verse 14, where the Lord says to that assembly, "I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam."
There is something similar to this in the next assembly addressed, Thyatira. After commending their works, and love, etc., in verse 19, the Lord says in verse 20, "But I have this against thee, that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess; and she teacheth and seduceth My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols." So that there is false teaching in view in each of these assemblies: it is held in Pergamos, "Thou hast there them that hold the teaching." In Thyatira, it is not only held but propagated; there is an element in the assembly in Thyatira figured by the woman Jezebel. What warning we have here to be careful in reference to the teaching, to look well to the holding of the teaching, and to look well to the utterance of the teaching. It is most necessary to subject the oral teaching and the written teaching of brethren, let them be never so esteemed, to the test of the Scriptures. It is what I would wish for myself, and I am sure anyone who has a true desire to serve the Lord would not wish his words to be accepted if they were not true to the Word of God. Many would thus be saved from going astray through wrong teaching held, or spoken, or written.
It is impossible to stay longer upon these assemblies, or upon the action of the Lord toward each one. Note that it is the action of the Lord—there is no action laid upon individuals, or upon one assembly in relation to another. Please mark that; for some forgetting the former have urged the latter, and have said, ‘Look at the 2nd and 3rd of Revelation, and you will find there that although certain (as those in Thyatira) propagated false teaching, yet other assemblies have no responsibility in connection therewith.’ Those who reason thus, do not go quite far enough, for if we make this Scripture in Revelation our only guide in this matter, not only is there no legislation for one assembly to approach another, but there is no legislation for an individual. But who thinks of taking away the force of 1 Cor. 5 in regard to moral evil? Who thinks of taking away the edge of the sword of the Spirit in Galatians, 1st and 2nd Timothy in regard to evil doctrine? The fact is, we do not turn to Revelation 2 and 3 for instruction as to how disciples in an assembly of God are to deal with evil that may raise its head in the midst; or how one assembly should approach another if it goes wrong. We do not come to these chapters, because it is not their object or scope to do that; but we go to other parts of the God-breathed Scriptures to find instruction in those things.
Passing on to chapter 3, we observe that the next assembly, Sardis, is in a most critical state, having a name to live, but being dead, and is charged to remember how it had received and heard, and to hold fast and to repent. How much there is for us if we will but meditate even upon this particular verse which deals with the state of Sardis, how much that is helpful for ourselves.